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A Fleeting Art Carnival in the Backs of Box Trucks

Experiences

Oriana Leckert | Walter Wlodarczyk | October 18, 2017
At the Lost Horizon Night Market, spend an evening traversing tiny interactive universes.

What would you do if you could create a little world in the back of a box truck?

That’s the question at the heart of the Lost Horizon Night Market, an itinerant art carnival that has been taking place sporadically in Brooklyn and across the country since 2009. The participatory spectacle happens for only a few hours, in remote corners of town, and invitations are strictly by word-of-mouth. At around midnight, everyone rolls down the trucks’ gates and drives away, and the Night Market vanishes — like it was never there at all.

“It’s terribly romantic and full of metaphor — creating something from nothing, only to destroy it at the end of the night or pack it all away again for next time,” says Jaclyn Atkinson, one of a loose and changing group of conspirators who are known, en masse, as Those Who Choose the Time and Place. Though each truck is self-contained, its proprietors responsible for everything from rental to decoration to cleanup, Those Who Choose do just that: find the perfect location and determine when each gathering will occur. They also corral the proprietors and work out some logistics, like who will share generators and whether teams can help each other build and transport their little worlds.

“Every installation comes from the mind of a different artist, allowing participants to traverse many realities in a single night,” Atkinson says. “The only real rule is participation from the audience, and that nothing may be bought or sold.” Over the years, trucks have held everything from game shows to dance parties, from glitter makeup parlors to fog-filled space capsules, from a boxing ring to a hot tub. “This is about taking that weird thing, that idea that has been kicking around in the back of your head, and making it into a reality,” Atkinson says.

The most recent Night Market was a two-night escapade between Brooklyn and Philadelphia: the Lost Bridge Exchange. New Yorkers loaded their props, costumes, and materials into a “mother truck” and headed to Philly for the weekend, and two weeks later, the same thing happened in reverse. The Philadelphia evening saw a bevy of intricate truck universes. There was the serene Mesopotamian Vibes, an opulent tea parlor with a long, low table full of warm tea in tiny cups surrounded by carpet-draped walls, and the wondrous Bangarang and Archedream for Humankind, which featured a silent puppet show starring black-lit puppets. There was the Devil’s Nachoria, filled with handmade machines delivering various ingredients onto a messy plate, staffed by devils taunting attendees when they couldn’t master the machines. And there was the perennial, popular Smash Truck, where participants could don protective goggles, step behind a thick plexiglass wall, and take a baseball bat to broken electronics, fruits and vegetables, and plastic toys, while a soundtrack of punk and thrash music blasted.

Still others featured involved performances, including Femme Fortuna Fatale, where guests interacted with the three Fates from Greek mythology: Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who determines the length of each thread; and Atropos, who cuts the thread at life’s end. Participants visited each Fate individually: Clotho offered a selection of cards, each with an emotion written on it, and she etched a picture while discussing the resonance of that emotion with her guest. Lachesis offered a wheel to spin, yielding another card and another conversation, which she proffered in exchange for something personal: a deep dark secret, perhaps, or a length of hair. Atropos had a selection of sticks carved with symbols, and as she discussed life and death, she wove each guest’s cards onto their own stick. “We wanted people to walk away with a piece of art that was personal and meaningful to their life experience,” says Bianca Fiscella, the Philadelphia-based artist and performer who played Lachesis. The Fates’ costuming was as intricate as their performance, with each sporting a massive headpiece made, of course, of woven yarn.

There were many more tiny universes: a maze made out of trash populated by people in cockroach costumes; a strange drama involving a huge papier-mâché dowager with a gambling problem; a limousine into which guests were invited in small groups to receive briefings on odd, imaginary missions. Every unique experience was developed and labored over by a different group of “creative misfits and seekers of the unknown,” as Kathryn Sclavi, another member of Those Who Choose, puts it. And, she says, “each market breathes new mystery and magic into the world, providing a sense of freedom to not just the artists involved, but to everyone who participates. It’s a reminder that the world is an open platform for creative expression.”


For another unique experience, head to Fernet-Branca


 

Oriana Leckert is a writer, editor, cultural hipstorian [sic], and the author of Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture & Creativity. Her writing has appeared on Slate, Atlas Obscura, New York Post, Matador, Hyperallergic, Gothamist, Curbed, Brooklyn Magazine, Brooklyn Based, and more.

Walter Wlodarczyk is a documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. His work examines art and life, in New York City and beyond. Find him at walterwlodarczyk.com

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